TIMMINS -- The Living Space shelter in Timmins will be relocating another 20 clients from its main location to Northern College, as a more stable solution to its physical distancing dilemma.

It first had an arrangement to room clients at the local Bon Air Motel and announced Thursday that it struck a deal with the college to use its residence facilities, while the campus is closed due to COVID-19 and students returned home to continue learning online.

"It checks a lot of the tick boxes by providing individual rooms with individual bathrooms," said Brian Marks, the shelter’s board chair, adding that the nature of a homeless shelter makes it difficult to follow the two-metre-distance public health guideline.

"We were able to negotiate to keep the (college’s) kitchen services open, so meals can be provided to the rooms and then Living Space staff can monitor on each floor to make sure ... that people follow social distancing practices."

'These are unusual times'

The college’s president, Fred Gibbons, said it has a good relationship with the Living Space and the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board, which funds it.

The residence building has also been used for emergency shelter before, in situations like flood and forest fire evacuations.

In that sense, agreeing to offer the space during this pandemic to the homeless population, which is vulnerable to COVID-19, is something Gibbons said the college felt compelled to do.

"These are exceptional, unusual, unprecedented times," said Gibbons.

"We are an educational institution but we have a huge social responsibility to our community, as well, and this is one of the ways that we can give back."

Sault homeless shelterHomeless shelters aren’t typically built for physical distancing, said Brian Marks.March 27/2020
(Sergio Arangio/CTV News Northern Ontario)

Stable but temporary solution

The initial arrangement had the Living Space using the residence building for at least four weeks.

Gibbons said the college is open to expanding that timeframe based on the need but noted that the residence will have to be reclaimed once there’s a better handle on the pandemic.

At the shelter’s Cedar Street location, its 12 transitional beds will still operate.

It’s drop-in program is continuing, as well, but Marks said that will likely have to close as the virus continues to spread.